It is difficult to see God as formless and it is difficult to see God as form. The formless is so abstract and God in a form appears to be too limited. So some people prefer to be atheists. Atheism is not a reality, it is just a matter of convenience. When you have a spirit of enquiry, or in search of truth, atheism falls apart.
With a spirit of enquiry, you cannot deny something which you have not disproved. An atheist denies God without first disproving it. In order to disprove God, you must have enormous knowledge. And when you have enormous knowledge, you cannot disprove it! For one to say that something does not exist, one should know about the whole universe. So you can never be one hundred percent atheist. An atheist is only a believer who is sleeping!
For a person to say, ‘I don’t believe in anything’, means he must believe in himself — so he believes in himself about whom he does not even know! An atheist can never be sincere because sincerity needs depth — and an atheist refuses to go to his depth. Because the deeper he goes, he finds a void, a field of all possibilities — he has to accept that there are many secrets he does not know. He would then need to acknowledge his ignorance, which he refuses to do, because the moment he is sincere, he seriously starts doubting his atheism.
A doubt-free atheist is next to impossible! So you can never be a sincere and doubt-free atheist. When the atheist realises his ignorance, what does he do? Where does he go? Does he go to a guru? What does a guru do to him? Atheism is when one does not believe either in values or in the abstract. When an atheist comes to the guru, what happens? You start experiencing your own form and discover that you are indeed formless, hollow and empty. And this abstract non-form in you becomes more and more concrete!
The guru makes the abstract more real and what you thought as solid appears to be more unreal. Sensitivity and subtlety dawns. Perception of love, not as an emotion, but as the substratum of existence becomes evident. The formless spirit shines through every form in creation and the mystery of life deepens, shattering the atheism. Then the journey begins and it has four stages.
The first stage is Saarupya (to see the formless in the form). Seeing God in all the forms. Often, one feels more comfortable to see God as formless rather than with a form, because with a form, one feels a distance, a duality, a fear of rejection and other limitations. In life all of our interactions are with the form, other than in deep sleep and in samadhi.
And, if you do not see God in the form, then the waking part of life remains devoid of the divine. All those who accept God to be formless use symbols, and perhaps love the symbols more than god himself! If God comes and tells a Christian to leave the cross or a Muslim to drop the crescent, perhaps he may not do it! To begin with loving the formless is possible only through forms.
The second stage is Saamipya (closeness), feeling absolutely close to the form you have chosen and reaching out to the formless. This leads to a sense of intimacy with the whole creation. In this stage, one overcomes the fear of rejection and other fears. But this is time and space bound. The third stage is Saanidhya, feeling the presence of the Divine by which you transcend the limitations of time and space. Then the final stage Saayujya, when you are firmly entrenched with the Divine. It is then you realise you are one with the Divine. There is a total merging with the beloved and all duality disappears. This is that and that is this.
Divinity is unmanifest, but man has an innate desire to perceive the divine in the manifest creation around him. He creates idols, breathes faith into it and requests divinity to be present in that idol for a while, so that he can worship, express his love and play with it. At the end of his worship he requests divinity to go back into his heart from where divinity manifested. This is in all puja practices. They are not actually worshippng the idols but worshipping the unmanifest divinity which has all the divine qualities.
For a flame to go up, you need space above. In the same way, for a man to rise up in his life, he needs an ideal, he needs something to adore and worship. Worship is the culmination of love and appreciation. Worship prevents love from turning into hatred or jealousy, and appreciation into low self-esteem. In life, if you do not adore or appreciate anything, you will be filled with negativity.
And a person who has nothing to worship or adore is sure to fall into depression. Lack of adoration has led to many emotional, psychological and social problems in the society. If you have nothing to hold up high in life, selfishness, arrogance and violence are sure to follow. Adoring and honouring each other in society eliminates stress and fosters compassion and love.
In the previous century, it was thought that worshipping was an uncivilised and unintelligent thing to do. Worship was thought to rise from a slavish mentality. On the contrary, worship can only happen through gratefulness.
In worship, a sense of belongingness, love, honour and respect all come together. Without a sense of belongingness, worship or idealism can bring low self-esteem. The ancient people knew this so they insisted that people should feel part of what they worship. They encouraged people to worship the sun, moon, mountains, rivers, plants, animals and people.
Worship in a true sense is a sign of maturity and not weakness. Reason is reeling in the known. Faith is moving in the unknown. Reason is repetition. Faith is exploration. Reason is routine. Faith is adventure. They are completely opposite, yet an integral part of life.
Not having faith itself is misery; faith gives instant comfort. While reasoning keeps you sane and grounded, no miracle can happen without faith. Faith takes you beyond limitations. In faith you can transcend the laws of nature but it needs to be pure. Faith is beyond reason, yet you need to have faith in your own reasoning! (A sentence to be pondered on). Faith and reason cannot exist without each other. Every reason is based on some faith. Whenever reason or faith breaks, confusion and chaos prevails which is often a step for growth.
There are two types of faith. Faith out of fear, greed and insecurity; and faith born out of love like the faith between the mother and the child, the master and disciple. Whereas the faith out of love cannot be broken, faith out of fear and greed is shaky.
An atheist bases himself on reason, and a believer on faith. A believer uses God as an insurance policy! He thinks he is special. In the eyes of God there is no ‘mine’ and ‘others’; all are the same. An atheist rationalises to keep his eyes shut to reality. Only a yogi — a wise one — remains unshaken. For that person has transcended both reason and faith.
You need a balance between faith and reason.